Many refugee claimants are not based on situations where the state is the agent of persecution. Rather, the source of risk is a quasi-governmental authority or private actors. In such cases, the issue turns to one of the adequacy of state protection.
Ward v. Canada
The leading decision on the issue of state protection in the context of refugee and pre-removal risk assessment decisions is the Supreme Court of Canada decision Canada (Attorney General) v. Ward,  2 S.C.R. 689. There, the Supreme Court of Canada held that a state’s inability to protect its citizens is the crucial element in determining whether a claimant’s fear of persecution is well-founded as it determines the reasonableness of his or her unwillingness to seek the protection of his or her state of nationality.
Specifically, the Supreme Court noted that:
Having established that the claimant has a fear, the Board is, in my view, entitled to presume that persecution will be likely, and the fear well-founded, if there is an absence of state protection. The presumption goes to the heart of the inquiry, which is whether there is a likelihood of persecution. But I see nothing wrong with this, if the Board is satisfied that there is a legitimate fear, and an established inability of the state to assuage those fears through effective protection
The Court went on to note that:
Only situations in which state protection “might reasonably have been forthcoming”, will the claimant’s failure to approach the state for protection defeat his claim. Put another way, the claimant will not meet the definition of “Convention refugee” where it is objectively unreasonable for the claimant not to have sought the protection of his home authorities; otherwise, the claimant need not literally approach the state. [My emphasis]
The issue that arises, then, is how, in a practical sense, a claimant makes proof of a state’s inability to protect its nationals as well as the reasonable nature of the claimant’s refusal actually to seek out this protection.
Ward involved a somewhat unique case where the refugee claimant’s home state conceded that it could not protect the claimant. However, for cases where such an admission was not forthcoming, the Supreme Court noted that:
Where such an admission is not available, however, clear and convincing confirmation of a state’s inability to protect must be provided. For example, a claimant might advance testimony of similarly situated individuals let down by the state protection arrangement or the claimant’s testimony of past personal incidents in which state protection did not materialize. Absent some evidence, the claim should fail, as nations should be presumed capable of protecting their citizens. Security of nationals is, after all, the essence of sovereignty. Absent a situation of complete breakdown of state apparatus, such as that recognized in Lebanon in Zalzali, it should be assumed that the state is capable of protecting a claimant.
In other words, there is a presumption that the state can protect its citizens. In order to rebut this presumption, a person seeking protection must show “clear and convincing evidence.”
Is there a Subjective Fear of Persecution?
Before the Refugee Protection Division can engage in a state protection analysis, it must first analyze whether a refugee claimant has a subjective fear, and what that fear is. Thus, in Cobian Flores v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2010 FC 503, the Federal Court noted that:
[S]ave in exceptional cases, the analysis of the availability of state protection should not be carried out without first establishing the existence of a subjective fear of persecution. The panel responsible for questions of fact should therefore analyze the issue of the subjective fear of persecution, or, in other words, should make a finding as to the refugee claimant’s credibility and the plausibility of his or her account, before addressing the objective fear component which includes an analysis of the availability of state protection.
The reason that it is necessary to analyze whether and what the subjective fear of persecution is before analyzing whether there is adequate state protection is because one has to determine exactly what the state is trying to protect an individual from in order to determine whether that protection is adequate. As noted by the Court in Velasco Moreno v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration), 2010 FC 993:
In my view, a negative determination of the Refugee Protection Division which turns on the issue of state protection must be scrutinized with particular care where the member chooses to make no credibility finding concerning the applicant’s allegations of a subjective fear.
However, the judge sitting in judicial review must be satisfied that the applicant’s allegations, usually in the personal information form and the transcript of the refugee hearing, were treated as true by the decision-maker.Only then can a proper review be made of the member’s state protection analysis. The state protection issue should not be a means of avoiding a clear determination
Effort vs. Results
In Galogaza v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2015 FC 407, the Federal Court noted that:
A state’s efforts, on their own, do not establish that protection was actually available to the claimant:
[E]vidence of a state’s efforts does not help answer the main question that arises in cases of state protection – that is, looking at the evidence as a whole, including the evidence relating to the state’s capacity to protect its citizens, has the claimant shown that he or she likely faces a reasonable chance of persecution in the country of origin? To answer that question, the Board has to decide whether the evidence relating to the state resources actually available to the applicants indicated that they would probably not encounter a reasonable chance of persecution if they returned to [their country of origin] (Moczo v Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration), 2013 FC 734, at para 10; Beri v Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration), 2013 FC 854, at para 46).
In other words, whether state protection is adequate depends on its operational effectiveness, not the best efforts or intentions of the state. Indeed, a Refugee Protection Division decision will be unreasonable if the tribunal only focuses on best intentions. In Mata v. Canada (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship), for example, the Federal Court held:
While the Officer correctly states the general principle for state protection (adequate state protection) the decision does not demonstrate that the Officer actually considered the operational adequacy of state protection efforts. For example, the Officer notes that “Hungary is making serious efforts to address the problems that Roma individuals face in that country.” In absence of any analysis regarding the adequacy of those “serious efforts,” the Officer failed to apply the correct test for state protection.